Positive therapeutic relationships are essential to the healing process. These relationships are delicate and require a degree of comfort and trust. The passive-patient/dominant-physician model may no longer be the most effective way to engage.

Doctor-patient relationships are a special kind of social relationship where bonding is planned and carried out with the final objective of helping the patient to achieve treatment goals. But that bond is increasingly tested by modern medicine and all its trappings: insurance providers, specialists, the Internet, and the rising cost of health care.

Your patient must have confidence in your competence and must feel that he or she can confide in you. Your approach to the doctor-patient relationship affects the patient’s level of engagement in their health care. Satisfaction with the doctor-patient relationship is a critical factor in a patient’s decision to join and stay with a specific physician.

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Some things that make the doctor-patient relationship thrive may seem obvious, but such actions need to be reinforced daily. For example, empathy, warmth, and encouragement go a long way in creating a positive feeling in your patients. Caring implies that you are fully present and engaged with your patient. Care should be genuine and not influenced by the judgment of your patient’s characteristics, perceptions, and behavior. Try to put yourself in your patient’s shoes; you must be able to reflect the experience of your patient because the doctor and patient are interconnected in a deep way. This closeness restores the patient’s sense of connectedness that may have been broken by their physical or emotional suffering.

Research suggests that patients who feel that their physicians treat them with respect and fairness, communicate well, and engage with communications outside of the office setting (such as e-mail or phone calls) perceive an enhanced quality of the patient-physician relationship.

Using technology to enhance the patient-physician relationships

You can use e-mail to make communication easier, sending information such as appointment and medication reminders, attachments containing guidelines, disease awareness and education, and administrative forms that can be filled out before office visits. While privacy rules strictly govern the type of information that can be sent via e-mail, the technology can still be used as an intermediate form of communication. Many patients carry e-mail enabled smart phones, so you can send messages any time of day, just to chat or to request your patient come in for a visit to discuss test results.

Tablets such as iPads can also enhance the doctor-patient relationship. You can access and update electronic health records on these devices. You can also present audio, video, and photographic information, with records, images, and charts ready for your patients to view. This will make calls and in-office visits more efficient and more meaningful for your patients.

Other areas that can help create a positive therapeutic relationship include:

  • Provide patients with clear information about his or her disease and its course of treatment
  • Encourage patients to have an active role in their treatment plan
  • Encourage patients to ask questions
  • Have patients write down and share their concerns with you
  • Develop mutually agreed upon goals

When positive and meaningful engagement takes place, you communicate effectively, and are caring and nonjudgmental, significant positive changes in your patients are likely to take place. Remember, to a large extent, the quality of your job depends on the quality of your relationship with your patients.

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